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Review: Springsteen's storytelling evolves with evocative 'Western Stars'

The Boss brings his latest album to life in sublimely shot concert film

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Bruce Springsteen's "Western Stars" is a remarkable meditation on life, love, truth, faith, redemption, freedom, commitment, aging, darkness and light. 

Not bad at all for a concert film. 

Bruce Springsteen in "Western Stars."

But then "Western Stars" is more than a concert film. Following his 2016 autobiography and his 2017-2018 run on Broadway, "Western Stars" marks Springsteen's latest evolution as an artist.

At the center of it is Springsteen performing "Western Stars," his 19th studio album, which was released in June. Rather than just any old concert stage, he presents the 13-track album inside his cavernous 100-year-old barn, joined on stage by a 30-piece orchestra and his wife of three decades, Patti Scialfa.

It's a cinematic setting, as soulful as any of the album's lyrics, and Springsteen — co-directing alongside frequent collaborator Thom Zimny — crafts a gorgeous-looking picture. The singer, who turned 70 last month, is frequently shot in close-ups, his typical superhero rock star energy dialed down to that of a storyteller, while the sweat from his arm trickles down the face of his guitar. The intimate look and feel is befitting of the album, a lush, full set of songs about a fading Western B-movie star making his way through his twilight years. 

In between songs, Springsteen is seen in vignettes and home movie footage, discussing the album's overarching themes. They're many of the same landscapes Springsteen has always traversed in his songs — the search for and exploration of the American Dream — but he's no longer the youngster who was born to run. He's now a man who has come to grips with the decisions he's made in life and his reasons for making them. (Many of those roads lead to Scialfa, to whom "Western Stars" becomes a tribute; the pair's duet on "Stones" is a highlight.)

Throughout, Springsteen proves prophet and poet, a rhinestone cowboy still barreling down the highway of life. "Western Stars" is yet another exit on his epic journey.    

'Western Stars'


Rated PG: for some thematic elements, alcohol and smoking images, and brief language

Running time: 100 minutes